We’re already more than halfway through the season. Can you believe it?
In this report, I will take a look back at January’s happenings and name my All-Stars for the season so far!
G: John Wall (WSH)
G: Rajon Rondo (ATL)
F: LeBron James (CLE)
F: Draymond Green (CLE)
F: Paul Millsap (ATL)
This list was pretty easy because the East is so, so, SO bad compared to the West. It’s a lot closer than last year, but the Eastern Conference really only has about 3 or 4 good teams, while the West has about 10 or 11 teams that deserve a playoff spot this year. The hardest choice was giving the final F spot to George over Pau Gasol (ORL) and Paul George (IND), but Millsap gets the nod because of how hot he started and how good Atlanta has been. Millsap was in the top five for like a month and a half at the beginning of the season.
Reserves: Kyle Lowry (TOR), George (IND), Carmelo Anthony (CLE), Gasol (ORL), DeAndre Jordan (NYK), Dwight Howard (ATL), Hassan Whiteside (CHI)
G: Stephen Curry (GS)
G: Russell Westbrook (PHX)
F: James Harden (HOU)
F: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC)
F: Andre Drummond (SA)
Hardest choice here was stretching Harden out to a F spot, pushing Anthony Davis (NO) out, but Harden has just been a little bit better than AD and gets a bonus boost for Houston being way on top of the Pelicans in the standings. Other than that, this list is pretty clear-cut. It seems like a travesty to leave Davis, Kevin Durant (LAL) and Kawhi Leonard (SA) off of the starters’ list, but Boogie and Drummond have just been playing on another level in this double-doubles friendly league.
Reserves: Chris Paul (LAC), Damian Lillard (POR), Jimmy Butler (POR), Leonard (SA), Durant (LAL), Davis (NO), Brook Lopez (GS)
THE CENTRAL IS A MESS
The Central Division, at first glance, seems like a tight battle between five decent teams. But when you investigate a little bit, you soon discover that there are only two actually good teams here – Chicago and Cleveland. Cleveland has been at the top all season long, but the Bulls are hot on their tails. After a quiet start to the season, Chicago has climbed all the way to sixth in points scored through January – one spot ahead of Cleveland. Behind them we have Milwaukee and Indiana, who are each 9 games above .500 but really aren’t that good. They’re 15th and 17th in points scored so far, so they’re about bang average in this league. How they’ve both been punching significantly above their weight is beyond me, but both of these teams really seemed destined to run out of gas soon. Assuming the Southeast gets four playoff teams (I actually think they’ll get all five), there will only be one (or none) spot left for the Pacers and the Bucks. And the Pistons? Well, they were actually hanging around with the other four teams, but that Drummond trade really sank their whole season and they’ll soon be an afterthought as the playoff race heats up.
THE NORTHWEST IS LOW-KEY AWFUL
We all know the Atlantic is the worst division in the league, but the Northwest may not be that far behind. Here’s an interesting stat: the Atlantic has only one team scoring in the top half of the league (Toronto), but the Northwest doesn’t even have ANY. The Atlantic only has one good(ish) team, but the Northwest might have zero. They’re led by Minnesota (19th) and Utah (16th) competing for the one playoff spot available to this division’s winner, with Portland (23rd, but at least the future is bright), Denver (26th and no talent to speak out outside of the backcourt) and OKC (further comment omitted) trailing far behind. I expect Utah to eventually climb into the top 12 or 15 teams now that Favors is finally back – and that Oladipo trade definitely helps, too – and snatch the division crown from Minnesota, whose team is an absolute wasteland after Love, ZBo and Teague.
WELCOME TO PLANET BOOGIE
Wow, man. DeMarcus Cousins has been an absolute monster these past four weeks. Since the start of 2016, Cousins has been far and away the best player in the league. He was the only player in January to score over 1,000 points and one of only three players to hit the 1,000-point mark for any month this season (the other two were Westbrook and Harden in November). The next closest player, Westbrook, managed only 977 in January. Boogie is averaging over 70 points per game in 2016 and has a league-best 13 double-doubles (in 15 games!!!). More important than his individual success is how he has vaulted Sacramento from fringe playoff team to legit contender. The Kings keep building on their foundation and are now a legitimate threat in the West. Golden State and a declining Phoenix are sleeping with one eye open.
ATTACK OF THE ROOKIES
In the annals of Real Deal history, we might look back at the 2015 draft as one of the best of all time. I don’t really have much to say here other than that there are 14 rookies averaging at least 20 points a game in 2016, which is my benchmark for “decent role player.” Some of these rookies – Towns, Porzingis, Okafor and Booker in particular – are already quite good. Guys like Cauley-Stein, Turner and Lyles have really been coming into their own. We’ve even had some second rounders – Nance Jr., Richaun Holmes and yes, even TJ McConnell – making a difference. Last year’s rookie class was pathetic – who really made a mark besides Wiggins and Mirotic for a stretch in April? – but this draft class looks like an all-timer already.